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Submitted by Steven ODell on 8 July 2007 - 11:40pm.

Chapter 4

It was Monday and Ted sat impatiently and quietly in a car, watching the building where Denise worked. It was closing time for the finance business and she would likely be out any minute now. Though she had not reported to work in several days, he knew she had to work to live and she could not afford to stay in a new place without paying for it in some way. And if she had quit her job here, at the very least she might return for her final check. He would wait patiently. The plan was simple enough—find her new apartment. All he had to do was follow her home and to ensure that he would not be caught, he had rented another automobile, quite different from the one he usually drove.

…and there she was. Denise exited the building and disappeared around the side to the parking lot. In a moment she appeared again in her own car, paused at the street, then turned to merge into traffic. As long as he did not lose sight of her, Ted knew he would eventually get his revenge.

He followed at a safe distance, being certain that she would never be able to see him. Patience is a virtue, he thought. And this time it would pay off. She made several turns and crossed a bridge before she got to a driveway into which she turned. She entered the house with her own key, meaning that she was likely the only one home at this time. Ted sat and watched for another half hour before he left, making a mental note of the time she had arrived home. As he drove away, he had a slight smirk on his lips. He had the information he needed. Now, to plan carefully.

The following day was nearing an end and the evening approaching when Ron’s phone rang. He answered to find Barbara, highly agitated, on the other end of the line. “Ron, I am sorry to appear so presumptuous as to bother you at home like this, seeing as we’ve just met, but I really need your help.”

Ron was a little surprised, but recognizing the voice, he responded, “Nonsense, you have no reason to apologize to me. I am flattered that you would call me for any reason. What can I do for you?”

“Well, it’s Denise…”

He was immediately concerned and his heart rate accelerated considerably at the thought that she might be hurt in some way. “What happened? Is she alright?”

“Yes, she is fine, for the time being, but I have reason to worry. When she got home from work, she found a rock through her window. A note was attached to it that said she would ‘pay for her crimes’. I have no way of proving it, but it sure doesn’t sound like a child’s prank. I think it may be Ted. The police came, but they said without further evidence to warrant investigation, they could do nothing. That doesn’t build much confidence, frankly.”

He relaxed a bit, knowing she was safe for the moment. “Okay, what can I do to help?”

“I don’t know, really. I guess that maybe you could just help to relax her and let her know that she has a friend other than me that cares. She was hesitant to call you on this. I think she feels she would be intruding.”

“Intruding? On what?” He chuckled a bit as he said this, reflecting on his empty and boring life until lately. “I will be right over. Is she at her home or at your place?”

“We are at her apartment. Oh, get something to write this down—I want you to have her number and mine, too, so that we can keep in touch on this…on whatever we need to”

“And I will give you my cell phone number so that in case I am not home you can still reach me, okay?”

He took note of the numbers she gave, placing them in a pocket-sized address booklet, which he then returned to his back pocket. She also wrote the number that he gave to her in return. “I’m on my way right now, Barb.” He hung up and left immediately.

Upon arriving, Ron walked up to the door he had visited just a few days previously, to find that the glass in the window beside the door had indeed been broken out. It looked as if someone had already cleaned up the pieces and a sheet of plastic had been taped over the window to seal against the weather. He knocked just as Barbara opened the door for him. “Thanks for coming over so quickly, Ron.”

“It’s no problem. You call me any time that you need to.”

Denise sat on the sofa, alone and looking quite dazed. Ron went to her immediately and knelt down in front of her, placing his hand on her knee. “How are you doing?” he asked gently. She looked at him briefly, shrugging her shoulders and averting her reddened eyes again. He could tell that she had been crying a lot and knew he had to break up the mood she was in. “Listen, I’ve had many an occasion to cry and sometimes it even helps to have an audience. After all, who wants to suffer in silence if nobody even knows it?” She chuckled and sniffed. “There, that smile looks so much better--there is the lovely lady I know and…” he stopped short, but both women caught it. “Feeling better?” he quickly asked.

“Yes, thank you.’ Denise studied his face a moment. Again, there was genuine kindness and concern in it.

Barbara touched Ron on the shoulder and asked, “Can I talk to you alone a minute?”

“Barbara…” Denise began.
“Now you just sit there and be good”, Barb scolded, extending a hand as though to hold her back.

“Alright, but you behave, too.” Denise sat obediently, but visibly did not like what she thought might be shaping up. She had no idea exactly what Barb was thinking, but she liked Ron…a lot…and did not want this relationship messed up before it really even started.

After Barb had drawn Ron aside she took him by one arm and looked him in the eyes as one might do with a child. “Look, it’s none of my business, but it’s obvious to anyone with eyes that you two are more than casually interested in one another. Maybe it’s time to quit playing ‘cat and mouse’ and let someone get ‘caught’, if you catch my meaning. After all, it’s been two days since the dinner, right? She really needs someone dependable in her life for stability right now and it may as well be you as anyone else, right?”

“My, you are direct, aren’t you?” He couldn’t help but admire the loyalty and concern for her friend, but she could be a bit intimidating also. Seldom taken off guard, this was an entirely new experience for Ron.

“Well, if you snooze, you lose, mister—and neither of you are going to benefit by wasting any time, okay?” She turned to face a questioning look from Denise. “I’m going home now, dear. You’re in good hands here.” She winked after ever-so-slightly emphasizing the word good and she whisked out, waving goodbye before anyone could say another word. Denise wasn’t certain there had not been some subtle emphasis on the word hands, too, which would be just like Barb to be that mischievous, but she shrugged it off mentally.

“I must say, Barb is a very interesting woman”, Ron stated, as one would in describing a cross between a birthday present and a Pandora’s box.

“Yes, she is,” giggled Denise and immediately changed her demeanor. “What did she say?” Staring straight into his eyes, she raised one eyebrow, squinted the other eye and put both hands firmly on her hips with an air of authority as she asked. There was no doubt she wanted an answer.

“Uh…it doesn’t matter, really—she was right. Will you let me call a glass repairman I know and then take you to dinner? I don’t cook well, so that is the best I have to offer.”

She softened her expression and nodded pleasantly. “Since that’s the best offer I’ve had in some time…I accept.”

Denise insisted on driving and Ron chose an Italian restaurant. On the way they discussed so many things, she thought there would be nothing left for later, but over dinner they seemed to find just as many more things to talk about. Every moment they spent together was like an adventure.

“Ron, we’ve talked about a huge variety of subjects, but you haven’t told me much about yourself. Maybe you’re just the strong, silent type? What deep, dark secrets are you hiding in there?” She smiled and leaned forward, elbows on the table, chin resting on her folded hands and fully intent on his imminent answer.

He grinned sheepishly and looked at the tablecloth. “There’s not much to tell, really.”

“I don’t believe you. You’re being far too modest, I’m sure. How did you handle Ted the other day without so much as mussing your hair? Why do you say you get so few home-cooked meals? A good man like you would get lots of dinner invitations, I would think. I am surprised you are not married.”

He looked a bit crestfallen at this last statement and she saw him fidget and swallow hard before he answered. She felt suddenly that she might have stepped over the line and was just ready to apologize as he responded hesitantly.

“I was married. I, uh…” He stopped completely, at a loss for words and Denise had to break the silence for them both.

“Yes…I recall you saying she’s passed away, but I didn’t think it was that recently. I’m sorry. I just saw no ring, and so I assumed…”

He gathered his wits again and proceeded to relate the information he felt she deserved to hear. “It’s okay. Her name was Lenore. She’s been gone about a year and a half now--complications from surgery. I know I should be over it better by now. Not terribly flattering for you, I’m sure. I apologize. As for the ring, I never wore it because of the nature of my work. It was precious to me and I never felt it mixed very well with the work I was engaged in. I taught martial arts in the service. ” A tear fell from his cheek and he took his napkin and dried it quickly. Denise almost felt regrets she had broached the still-tender subject.

“Martial arts—that answers the other question. I’m sorry if I hurt you, Ron. It’s really none of my…”

“No, no—I want you to know about me. I don’t wear the ring now because of habit.” He paused, elbows resting gently on the table and placing his open hands over his chin and mouth, as though he were searching for just the right words. He sighed and then began, “I requested an early retirement because it just took the wind out of my sails.” Again he paused briefly and chuckled, brightening a bit. “Y’know, if it weren’t for Ted, I never would have met you. How is that for irony?”

She laughed aloud. “Well, I will not be sending him a thank-you card. I can assure you in that.”

Ron laughed, too. He reached across the table and took her hand and his eyes said what his mouth could not. They laid bare what was in his heart and soul. She felt she would trust this man with her very life.

Ironically, after a completely lovely dinner, a totally exasperated Denise was stamping her feet and waving her fists in the parking lot outside. “Agh! That creep!” All four tires on her car were now flattened. She turned about, screaming in all directions, “You creep! I’m not married to you! You could’ve had me, but you blew it! Just leave me alone!” Ron looked about, too. There was no likely culprit in sight, but he spotted a surveillance camera on the side of the building directly adjacent to the restaurant. The business was closed, but he would talk to them tomorrow. There might be some chance it would show something, but for now he would call a serviceman to repair the tires and then see that she had a ride home and to work the next morning. Ron knew, though, that something had to be done about this—and soon. This was getting far too serious to ignore any longer.

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